July 16, 2013
Carol A. Criner trekked Mount Kilimanjaro with Thomson Safaris in 2003. In her article below, she reflects on one of the most important journeys of her life.
I’ve been busy-attacking-life in the ten years since climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. I rarely speak of my life-changing experience of slowly hiking the 19,341 ft. (5,895m). However, this morning I reconnected with the smiling 35-year-old who summited at 7:33AM on August 28, 2003.
As I gaze at the certificate and photos on the wall of my home office, I quietly feel that sense of accomplishment bubble up through my chest. My smile widens. My journey began with a phone call from my college sorority sister, another restless spirit and novice hiker who was ready for a challenge…
Ten years later, I am reminded of three Life Lessons from my Kilimanjaro journey:
1. First, confidently commit to the goal. You’ll be surprised by what you may accomplish.
As soon as Christina suggested we tackle Kilimanjaro, I was excited. I was also nervous. Can I really do this? Initially, I was unsure. My first step was to research summit success rates, mountain injuries, and recommended advance physical conditioning. My initial low moment was a phone call I placed to inquire whether my health insurance would airlift me to a hospital if injured.
My second low point was standing at the starting area of the climb; we were well rested and ready to hike in our newly purchased outfits and gear. A husky voice emerged from behind us in line and loudly stated ‘pardon me ladies; your mud gaiters are backwards. You might want to fix that’. Oh my, is it now obvious to everyone hiking the mountain that we don’t know what we’re doing? Quickly, we had to stamp-out the self-doubt and get moving.
Confidently committing to the goal of summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro was closely connected to ultimately achieving success. We focused with the end in mind. That commitment, to the goal as well as to each other, pulled us through mud, fatigue, and the impact of altitude.
2. Although the destination is important; the journey is equally valuable. Take it in.
The terrain changed each day. A long walk through a forest one day would transition the following morning to hikes through barren land, and periods of rock scrambling the day after. Beautiful!
I also fondly remember celebrating my birthday one evening. The crew kindly delivered a small cake, lit a candle, and sang Happy Birthday. We all danced. In the past 10 years, it’s been hard to top that birthday celebration on the side of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
I remember late night talks in the tent about husbands, boyfriends, career challenges, and life. I loved the moments of laughter on the trail as we met many teams of friends and families along the journey. The opportunity to learn each person’s story and share a portion of the climb together was an unexpected gift.
Ironically, the actual summit lasted approximately 10 minutes. We hugged, smiled, cheered, took photos, grabbed a drink of water, and were once again on our way. Time to get moving down the mountain.
The summit was an awesome moment, but the wonderful memories and lasting feeling of accomplishment were collected over multiple days.
3. We all need regular encouragement and positive re-enforcement.
The final summit hike began shortly after midnight as we joined a long line of hikers walking up a steep terrain. The line of hikers reminded me of a string of Christmas lights extending far along the black night sky. The hike seemed to last forever. Step. Step. Keep moving. I remember starting to feel pain and light-headed. I called over to Christina, ‘I am in pain. Is the appendix on the right side or left side?’ The long line of white lights seemed to never end. Would this hike also continue forever? At sunrise, we were still moving and growing tired. Finally, a rest break.
As we rested, Christina communicated that she would no longer continue the hike. ‘I’ll wait for you here’. We debated the subject. Finally, a familiar hiker walked past us, a new friend we met several days ago. He had just summited and was heading back towards camp. He asked how we were doing, clearly concerned. He said ‘Come on! Ladies, get moving. The summit is only about 200 yards away. Start walking that way. You can do it. It’s literally right around the corner. Go!’
Christina and I looked at each other—how silly are we? If we’re that close, we can finish. Let’s get moving. We started walking. And walking. As we continued forward, we were far beyond the 200 yards suggested. Then, we became angry. Why would he lie to us? More than forty-five minutes later, we summited. We hugged, took photos, and celebrated! Later that evening, we met our friend again and asked why he misled us. His answer I’ll forever remember. ‘Ladies, you looked terrible. You needed a push or you’d miss the chance of a lifetime. Now, aren’t you both glad I did that for you?’ Yes!
Thank you Mt. Kilimanjaro, Christina, Thomson Safaris, and all the supportive hikers we met on our journey. I will forever cherish the many memories and life lessons, and will faithfully carry these memories with me for the next 10 years.
Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro – I highly recommend it!
July 5, 2013
What got the Thomson team out of the office and into a big spread of ribs, homemade strawberry-rhubarb pie, and ice-cold beers?
Our fantastic Thomson guests, whose votes in the Travel + Leisure 2013 World’s Best Awards earned us a spot on T+L’s list of the top-rated safari outfitters in the entire world!
Readers judged travel companies based on the staff, guides, itineraries, destinations, activities, accommodations, food, and value. Each company’s scores were averaged, and the top 5 in each category were honored by the magazine as the “World’s Best.”
We asked Thomson Safaris co-owner and co-founder Judi Wineland how she felt about the award, and she had only one thing to say: “Cheers! A toast to all the fabulous guests who made this possible!”
July 2, 2013
We’re proud to announce that Travel + Leisure magazine has awarded Thomson Safaris a coveted 2013 World’s Best Award in the category of safari outfitters.
Readers’ votes in the categories of staff, guides, itineraries, destinations, activities, accommodations, food, and value were averaged to determine the top travel companies in each category. Thomson Safaris was honored to be named one of the best safari outfitters in the world!
“We are so proud that our past guests and readers of Travel + Leisure have rated us so highly,” said co-owner and co-director Judi Wineland. “To us, getting this sort of acknowledgement from our guests is truly the highest honor. We’re constantly working to provide the best possible experience and service to our guests, and we’re absolutely thrilled that those efforts are resonating.”
Beyond sharing our excitement, we wanted to take this opportunity to thank our guests—this would never have been possible without them! We’re incredibly fortunate to have been able to spend the last thirty-odd years getting to know Tanzania’s fascinating cultures, landscapes, and wildlife, and to then be able to share that with other adventurous travelers.
Here’s to another thirty years of world-class safaris!
June 18, 2013
If you have browsed though the latest J. Crew catalog – and looked beyond the chinos and tunics – you might have noticed some familiar golden grasses and stately acacia trees. Where are they? Tanzania, of course!
The catalog was photographed at Ndarakwai Ranch, one of our favorite places to stay in Tanzania. In fact, for close to a decade, trekkers on our unique Western Approach Route and recently pioneered Grand Traverse have been raving about their stay at Ndarakwai; they agree it is the perfect place to relax, regroup and acclimatize before climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
Ndarakwai was not always camera-ready, however. Nearly 20 years ago – before conservator and Ndarakwai owner, Peter Jones established the property – the land was nearly decimated due to rampant poaching and unregulated tree cutting. Peter Jones’ conservation efforts to restore the ranch’s health have been profound; today, the ranch supports a variety of species such as elephant, zebra, eland, giraffe, wildebeest, gerenuk, lesser kudu, cheetah and lion.
In addition to the eco-friendly accommodations, absolutely stunning views, and the opportunity for wildlife viewing, our guests love getting their hiking boots primed on guided nature walks through this exclusive property. Western Approach trekkers, Dave and Amy said:
“What they’ve done and are currently doing at Ndarakwai Ranch is awesome. We were especially impressed with our walking guide who wouldn’t give up until we had seen some elephants up close.”
J.Crew shot their men’s catalog on-location in Stone Town, Zanzibar. Another great destination! Stone Town offers a unique perspective of Tanzania and an opportunity to soak in local culture – as well as some sunshine – after a safari or Kilimanjaro trek.
May 21, 2013
During a girls’ night out, longtime friends, Deb and Emily decided to tick an item off their bucket lists and made a pact to summit Mount Kilimanjaro together. Over the course of the next year, they prepared and trained for their January 2013 trek with us. Emily was especially enthusiastic about the trek; she yearned to return to East Africa, where she spent her childhood and where her dreams of summiting Mount Kilimanjaro were born.
Unfortunately, only one of the women was able to climb Kilimanjaro. On December 20th, just two and half weeks before the start of their trek, life took an unpredictable turn of events – Emily was diagnosed with breast cancer. Instead of boarding a plane for Tanzania, she was in the hospital recovering from a bilateral mastectomy. As the ever-positive Emily put it, “A greater power had me training for a different mountain.”
From her hospital bed, Emily cheered Deb on as she followed the daily trek schedule and vicariously climbed alongside her friend. Little did she know, Deb created a large cardboard cutout of her friend so that Emily, in one way or another, would trek Kilimanjaro. In a sincere and heartfelt display of friendship, Deb literally carried her friend up the mountain to bring Emily’s goal to fruition. Later, the friends dubbed the cardboard cutout “Flat Emily” after the popular children’s book, Flat Stanley.
Deb embraced the journey of carrying her cardboard companion by taking photos of “Flat Emily” everywhere: on the airplane, at the trailhead, in the sleeping tents, and with her Thomson Safaris porters. When Deb finally had Uhuru Peak in her sights, however, she became very emotional, “It affected me in a way that I did not expect. Our assistant guide, Abeli, asked if I was OK. I said that Emily was the one who should have been there, not me; she was the one who wanted it the most. He simply said, ‘It’s best to be quiet now,’ as he walked me to the summit.”
Dinner with trekking group at Ndarakwai Ranch
Flat Emily at the gate (and properly outfitted with a Buff)
Deb carrying Flat Emily through the alpine desert of Kilimanjaro
The porters pitched in too!
Flat Emily at camp
Deb summits Mount Kilimanjaro with Flat Emily
Deb presents Emily with "Flat Emily" and a photo album of their Kilimanjaro trek
Upon returning from the Kilimanjaro, Deb compiled all of the images from her trek and surprised Emily with a photo album. On its pages, Emily could see that she (or her likeness, anyway) had, indeed, experienced every step of the trek alongside Deb. Emily was also touched to learn that everyone in Deb’s trekking group, including porters and guides, contributed to Emily’s dream and took a turn carrying “Flat Emily” up towards the summit.
Emily keeps the album Deb so thoughtfully created on her coffee table. She adds, “I was moved to tears. It was (and is) the most thoughtful, sacrificial gift I have ever received. I am humbled at the forethought and planning this amazing woman did to bless me through the valley.” She adds, “True friends will not only walk that extra mile for you but complete strangers become friends when they are willing to share the dream and carry the weight of a “Flat Emily” to the Roof of Africa.”
Since her treatment began, Emily’s bright spirit and strength have not wavered. She shares, “The last few months have been a roller coaster, I have spectacular days, followed by days that are an effort just to complete general tasks. ‘Chemo brain’ is the worst of it – thank God for spellcheck and my Garmin [GPS], otherwise I truly would be in a pickle! However, I’m now considering plans to trek Kilimanjaro for my 50th birthday, as long as there are no other lumps – pun intended – on the road to 2015.”
May 15, 2013
Thinking about going on an African safari? Your trip will deliver memories to cherish for a lifetime. As you begin planning your African adventure, take a look at the following eco-friendly and socially responsible travel tips to help you become more familiar with local customs and to help you tread lightly on the land during your visit. Safari njema!
Feel free to add your comments section below, and make sure to share these tips with fellow travelers on Facebook and Twitter!